If only I had a cent for the amount of times that I’ve read ‘Tiote offers the substance to Cabaye’s style’ or something similar in discussion of Newcastle United's midfield. One of the biggest misconceptions in football is that every requires a midfielder whose game is based around brute force. This may do Tiote a disservice, but Toon fans seem to be fast running out of patience with the Senegalese international’s brash and often dumbfounding antics, perhaps offering too much substance to Cabaye’s unquestionable style and finesse in the centre of the park, whilst also becoming prone to the mindless lump upfield.
As the colourful Cheick prepares to spend a three match spell on the sidelines, let me begin the calls to promote a small, unassuming Coventry City academy product to fill the void. Step forward Gael Bigirimana. By far and away a more ball-playing and creative midfielder than Tiote, who was described by a player from their Europe League opponents Club Brugge this the week as ‘a human maul on two legs’, Gael’s guile and technical ability have led to somewhat premature comparisons with the definitive midfield workhorse, Michael Essien.
Thursday night’s Europa League clash with Club Brugge may not have been the best game to judge Bigirimana’s ability, his influence being tempered by the fact that alongside him were Tiote and Vurnon Anita, who is built in a similar mould to Bigirimana. The tie itself was played at a relatively meandering tempo, with neither team needing to go all out at this stage in the group. Nevertheless, compared with the fellow youngsters on show and indeed some of the elder statesmen too, Bigirimana displaying a calm head, assuredness of touch, work rate and industry to kick start moves from the back, a winning combination that is a sure fire way to quickly win the affection of the Geordie faithful.
Gael’s guile and technical ability have led to somewhat premature comparisons with the definitive midfield workhorse, Michael Essien
Despite many a publicised reservation held when it comes to logistics of the Europa League, it nevertheless offers a great outlet for managers to field young, inexperienced players who are vying for first team spots. Aside from the League Cup, their chances over the course of a season are often threadbare (permitting that the first team remain fit), such is the importance of the domestic league, and the need to qualify for Europe repeatedly season after season. This, tied with Newcastle’s newly implemented transfer strategy of seeking young, hungry continental players with a point to prove (Pardew professed that his young team had a ‘fire’ about them before kick-off), has kept players such as Tiote on their toes.
At the moment, it seems to be working. The Magpies have started well in their group, and are yet to concede a goal (an accolade they share with only one other team, Bayer Leverkusen). Players such as Shane Ferguson, Sammy Ameobi and Gabriel Obertan are staking their claim for a first team place, and with many of the first teamers sitting on the bench as an insurance policy, they have been able to witness at first hand the strides that the promising youngsters are making.
But should we be surprised? As previously demonstrated with West Ham, Pardew knows how to man manage youngsters. He nurtured Michael Carrick into an England regular and Anton Ferdinand and Nigel Reo Coker into solid if unspectacular Premier League performers.
Going back to Bigirimana, although his father is Burundian and mother Rwandan, he has never represented either country at international level. Let the clamours for an England under-21’s call up commence?
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